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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Quo Theatre? Chapter Two or Chapter Eleven??

Headlines tonight on the 11 o'clock Crime in the City!
Last Sunday, the Patron Saint of New York Broadway Comedy was brutally murdered by a group of yuppies who claim they are stress busters. What got busted actually was the true spirit of comedy as could be performed by some effortless fine acting. We take a look at this tonight. In the second part, after a couple of para breaks, we also take a look at how this was blown out of proportions as the most selfless act of cleansing the world of dirty aesthetic craft of underplaying Simple Simon's stage oevures! But first... let's listen to the cries of someone who craves audience.
Ladies and Gentlemen... *John Williams orchestra in the BGM, Lasers lightsabering themselves in a criss-cross through the auditorium, a faint glow of neon twin masks of tragi-comedy that represent theatre in the background cyclorama stretch of the wall...or plexiglass...or whatever material your budget allows*... please welcome on stage the child prodigy - Innocente Lost-on-the-Basics Dramatidis, the kid that's roving aimlessly in search of respectable theatre shows and politically sincere theatre reviews. By 'respectable' we don't mean shows where people are clothed for the most part on both sides of the stage; or by politically sincere we don't mean writers who tend to think discovering classics of literature for urban uninitiated audiences or artists who seek artistic expressions do not or cannot bring entertainment or bust stress or stress busts, whatever the case may be!
What we mean is shows that do not conjecture that audience are dumb and want only scripts that have "hahahaha" all over (or for most part), shows that take into consideration that entertainment can comprise of anything that is absorbing for the audience so much so to help them forget what they wanted to leave behind when they visit theatre; shows that has everything put together properly and not necessarily riding on the wave of packaging ability; shows that respects the intellectual honesty of the audience; shows that don't think audience can't recognise the difference in a comedy that results from the way the play demands to be performed as against the raping of acting to push the humour to tortuous levels so much so that acting is forced upon (and wow some of the unsuspecting audience into believing your show is full of stars who can act, even if as fakely as american television operas and sitcoms) and not happened upon; shows that discount those audience who may have foreknowledge of the play being performed.

Remember, when we parade the wares we get all type of buyers. Today may seem that those who know are negligible that we can live commercially off the unsuspecting nincompoops who fill the halls with their deodorant armpits and spaghetti strappers. But before long those with foreknowledge may grow in numbers and then it's time to ante-up! The meek shall inherit the earth says the world's largest perused literature!
Now, as promised earlier, albeit after one extra para: On to the politically sincere! Well... actually let's skip this bit. These are the opinion-shapers who like to par-tay and build an illusion that life exists only to support those who give you a good unhh unhh unhh and a complementary fresca at press cons! For whom anything as complex as Art Buchwald is heavy-weight material and anything that does not deal with romance or love or flirt or gender-war is useless in a society that is increasingly leaning towards moral depravity. Singing any song for supper, it is! No... no! Singing in support of those in vogue for supper, it is! *Sheepish grin* "Sorry... occupational hazard. Actually, I don't have an opinion... any opinion... because I have grown numb to taking stance and making strong choices in a proactive way!" Awrite, we sabe!
After few long paragraphs, KK still doesn't make sense. What the hell is he writing? Ah yes. We were supposed to ask Whither Theatre. Ok. Whither Theatre?
Some kids from Visual Communication took me on the can for a docu project they were doing this evening. The topic was "Youth in Theatre". The main question: More and more youth are coming to theatre now-a-days. Is it good or bad? Would you say this is a positive trend? What is your take on this?
Cool topic, eh! Trend it definitely is. Positive? Having watched theatre evolve through the 80s, 90s of the 20th c. and groups come and go through the period till about 6 months back when the latest company - ASAP Productions - came into existence, I feel like a quotidian. Let's take a look at the theatre companies - are dealing only with English Theatre here, Tamil is very healthy in its hate-hate politics (the best part about English Theatre in Chennai is that there are no amateur, commercial, mainstream, parallel, art divisions. Only English Theatre. Thank God for small mercies!) - in existence. The Madras Players, MTC Productions, Boardwalkers, Masquerade, Magic Lantern, Thespian En, Evam, Theatre Nisha, Stagefright Productions, ASAP Productions, JustUs Repertory, Sunshine Productions, Landing Stage Youth Theatre Group and some on and off clanish circles and associations... and a couple of them are brewing at the moment. Will take a while before they get known, but not too far. There were groups such as Theatre Arlequin, Asvameda, Stagecraft, etc, etc... which came and went. Some long, some brief. There were several groups that did one-off productions, hastily put together motley bunch of part-time partying lots who used theatre to have a nocturnal romp at the after-production cast-parties and dope and drink and mope around, but they don't deserve mention here. We are dealing with THEAAAATRRRRRRRRRE! So where does diversity of theatre groups leave us? Where does such a volume of youngsters who hang about rehearsals and do anything from front of house to backstage duties these days leave us?
Very precariously. Too many people are coming to do theatre or watch theatre these days. And how does theatre stand to profit from this? Oh, what profit shofit... make hay while sun shines. I hear you. Only, don't hatchet the count before he chickens, as my friend Freddy says! Yes, theatre is turning out into the proverbial golden goose. Crowds are coming, more people are showing interest as though if there were a financial possibility, they would make theatre their career. Why not? More people, more actors. More actors, more audience. More audience, more productions. More productions, more nights of performances. More performances, better business and financial associates/sponsors. Better Finance, better attention to other aspects of theatre... Hold the phone! Who said so? Better Finance, better PR and Packaging and higher greed. That does not underline the possibility of better quality of performance.
You see, sometimes money can be pure evil (I don't abide by the dictum "it's not money, but the love for it..." Without Love for anything, where is the question of something existing for its own sake?). The very presence of it. Whether one needs it or not. Love is an essential need. Materials are not. For some, things are there just to hoard. Money is one such thing. People like to hoard. We live in the Age of Avarice. We are lost in material transformation. We are losing aesthetic balance in life. We have lost the opportunity to ascend to a higher mental quality of life. And art is part of it.
Entertainment is one thing. Demeaning entertainment is another thing. Last weekend I saw a show. Everybody in theatre is aware what show we are talking about. There were no other shows. And this is a show I had done thrice in the past. Some people call it my 5 year penance. I produced it in 1994. 1999. 2004. I know the show so well like the length of my spine (let me break some cliches). And these people know I do. Why, one of the cast was part of my show. Now am not a megalomanic or self-important sonofabitch to say someone should consideration for my presence at a show. But the implication is this. When we parade something before a larger public, we should remember that there are those with knowledge, there are those in the cheapseats of mind. This show was played to an audience that wants a voyeuristic hardon giggling at someone throwing morsels of humour written by someone else, giving it a slant that it is theirs. I was horrified when someone I knew so well and who is intelligent and sharp came up to me and said beautifully written script, no? Did these guys write it? I was aghast. What intellectual misappropriation else can you do? Than giving an ambiguous opinion that we are the creators of art? We are merely performers of other's work. That would be the day when someone in Chennai can write a-la Herr Simon of the New York Broadway. And the acting was horrible to say the least. Overacting on the lines of Desperative Housewives by the female segundo, faked underplay of ballistic tendencies in the mould of the soap-opera heroines of The Bold and the Beautiful by the femme fatale of the play, thespian spills of the sort exhibited by Late Shivaji Ganesan in the horrible quadrupled chin days of the mid-80s tamil films of his by the male lead and a little better exhibition of hyperactivity than the Safari-suited Hindi film actors of the late 70s-early 80s period by the fourth and final member of the cast. Why pray does one not recognise the difference between one's physique clothed and shoulder-bare? Looking good clothed doesn't mean looking good bare. One must recognise one's physical as well as mental assets and liabilites. If one has narrow shoulders, one should avoid exhibiting them. If one has the guts to go all way to make contact bi-labials to bi-labials, one might as well french properly. Sucking the sides of oneself desperately inside while just making literal lip-service of resuscitation is no better an act than turning away from audience to fake a kiss. And putting on inflections or pushing the speed of delivery is not equivalent to pulling off humour.
Humour lies in timing and not bawling. Going on top of the speed-gun and showing haste is not the right way to projecting the hypersensitivity and hyperactivity of the character. Sorry, Leo! The list is long. This was one play that sucked every millimeter of its way. I don't even have sympathy for the audience that burst into 1000-walas of laughters every time they heard a laugh-cue. There is a fundamental difference between laughing at lines and laughing at humour through good acting. On Sunday night, it was the former. And those who did the laughing do not know this. Or perhaps do not realise this. Anyway, goes to show, if you throw peanuts you get only monkeys. If you throw packaging you get only phonies on the other side of over-hang lights.
I respect the right of people to survive or even get rich. But not at the cost of bringing down levels of excellence in the name of "This is what the audience want". It is we who should decide this is what the audience should have. Simple: Everyone knows what they don't want, but until they are exposed to, no one knows what they exactly want. So, while dishing out entertainment, let us also create discerning audience for the future. Else we may run out of gas on the home stretch, missing out the podium. Art is all about bringing a certain aesthetic enhancement to the experience. For that to happen, there has to be a conscious process by the provider. For which a certain dedication to the craft is required. Which requires processing the product for its intrinsic value and not for its external values. Hope it strikes home in a positive way.
*Dramatidis walks down the stairs, tears for fears*


antickpix said...

As an unsuspecting nincompoop (albeit with smelly armpits, faded tee and shorts)...aren't you being a bit too harsh (but only a teeny-weeny bit)?

Krishna Kumar said...

Antick... that's the only way I work. Praise when it's praiseworthy, scalpel it when it requires. If out of politeness you just mumble "Nice Show... I enjoyed it" et al, you are not giving honest feedbacks and as a self-respecting performing artist I know when one is polite and when one is genuine. It's not the genuine criticisms that hurt me but this politeness of the "lobelia breeding class of moneyed art-launderers" who dress up for a good laugh. Mindless pandering. Ok, am I more than a teeny-weeny bit harsh now? Am I intrepid enough, strident enough? Will you accept to have your money cheated out of its full payment's worth if the ticket money you pay for is hard-earned?

antickpix said...

Good point. Scythe away.

vbk said...

The evolution will be VERY slow. i mean, the 'I just give what the audience want' thing... the fact is that the audience DO want it... even after being exposed to different sorts of stuff.... Tamil people, atleast. Track the career of Kamal Haasan. He gave revolutionary films like Hey Ram and Anbe Sivam... which bombed in the box office.But he just keeps making films which are revolutionary... cuz he's in love with the art. if ALL artists are are that way... Then it would be phenomenal... Maybe if the audience are constantly exposed to films/plays which are... revolutionary, then they will slowly change.... I mean, come on, i don't think you can blame them... they've grown up on that sort of stuff i say!

Krishna Kumar said...

vbk - Hey Ram was a truly admirable effort for the sheer film-making involved in it. Anbe Sivam! I don't regard it as anything more than plagiaristic crap that even stooped to the level of exploiting Street Theatre to glamorise the same. As for KH, I guess he is very passe in his style and repertoire. He works around a certain permutation and combination of his skills. Junta will never realise this, because he is differently camera conscious. He loves to occupy the camera and dominate the co-actors. And that is something you would never come across in the western acting ethics. I think you got me wrong. I don't want to make revolutionary theatre. I want to make honest theatre. I have done grossly commercial productions, even kinky sex comedies. But there must be a certain responsibility we show to the craft we are trained to do. Not go wham bam bang bang style like those cheap Mumbai comedies.

antickpix said...

Mumbai comedies. Oh, those are the worst.

vbk said...

Ok... i understand what your trying to say, k.k....totally.

Yes, Mumbai theatre... lol... Did you watch 'Creeps'?(in the theatre festival) V.R oh my god... if there was any subtlety in it... sorry, most of the ppl didnt get it.

Creeps was done by a mumbai group right k.k?

vbk said...

a visit to my blog will be appreciated...

Anonymous said...

i do not claim to be an ardent theatre critic, as i have little idea about what does and does not constitute good directorial input. however, i do enjoy watching a good play, especially one that is performed well. i cannot judge 'high quality' in a theatre production and certainly don't want to. i can only react to a play that i enjoyed vs. one that i did not.

i however object very strongly to being termed a phony because i pick up on a "laugh-cue". if the line was funny, and someone said it in a way that made me laugh, i don't see why i should not react, and worse still, be called a phony for doing so. neither am i a monkey that is enjoying its share of peanuts.

i certainly respect your opinion on various aspects of theatre - you are a veteran in every sense, and i am keenly aware of it and admire your contributions. however, kindly refrain from insulting an audience that has taken a very young group of people a lot of effort to cultivate. many faces of an audience that i have never seen in chennai before.

for a couple of hours, i certainly was distracted enough to forget the number of missed calls on my mobile and the miseries that i needed to attend to the next day. thank you, evam.

anil srinivasan

Krishna Kumar said...

inside outside anil. unfortunately we live in a world where cultivating an audience is the norm than a sin. You should not "cultivate" an audience. "Culture" the audience to better acts of criticism than appreciate anything that's packaged together must be the call of the day. If the audience needs to be insulted to proact than just react, I would go further to say monkeys probably only deserve peanuts!!! I still insist that was bad theatre and worse hamming. An insider's view is always lacking objective.

Outside inside. I had a personal talk with kutti early this afternoon. I don't question the honesty behind the effort. If honesty is the flagship quality of human life, then without getting incensed because one is part of the creation, one must accept that a bagful of laughs to forget missed calls are not enough. The fact that the phone was still on and calls were received missed or not shows if the laughs were not there, those calls probably would have been attended. Why can't we respect people who put up the show and switch off (totally) the phone. And we have a right to be audience that feel insulted by a comment against a group (young or not) that "cultivates" audience like they doctor pitches in sub-continent. I don't see the difference between the run feast on the maidans to the jingling of cash-registers. And this is a crowd that has no iota of what they are visiting - theatre or movie or kutchery or fancy store. Whatever is glamorous they would be present. I won't buy the dope that they don't go to other shows (I would certainly not want these cultivated audience in my shows!) because they don't know about these shows. It is because the other shows are not appealing enough for their spaghetti straps and three quarters low-qs. Insulting enough?

There have been times I have appreciated your "Thanks Evam's" performances. It has nothing to do with my taste for theatre or liking for certain types of scripts, but my concern for a longer sustenance of theatre, which is not necessarily hahahahaha comedies at the cost of theatrical ethics!

Krishna Kumar said...

vbk, I am taking about a different Mumbai theatre. We are on different wavelengths. Let me clarify. There is a type of theatre from Mumbai that is patronised by the Rotaries and Round Tables that aim at pleasing the lesser side of human intellect by providing comedy with double entendres, sexual innuendos, cheap body and bawdy humour and corny one-liners waghera waghera... the language is immaterial. Hindi or English. Creeps is of a different variety. The Company Theatre is actually one of those repertories I would recommend for their commitment to theatre rather than coaxing the purse strings of these modern day "to be seen" types going to theatre, by giving them packaged humour at the cost of aesthetics. Aesthetics do not happen on stage by hanging chandeliers or draping the backdrop with colourful sequencing of sarees or cane furnitures. The subtlety in the artist's quiver of acting is what i mean. Creeps is an anamoly to TCT's work. Actually the trouble is for a play such as this being brought to this sham of a festival. What is happening in Chennai is that in the name of groundbreaking the theatre culture anything and everything is being tried by mushrooming groups and individual and corporate houses that see themselves as purveyors of art, to bring audience anywhichway they can. Creeps is a German play. And the culture is different there. Their politics and social ideology are different from our ethos. Creeps is too early a play for our context. Also, we live in a culture where we mainly look for a theatre that aims to please us without making us think or offend. We want a socially acceptable safe non-risk taking art and delude ourselves into thinking ours is a very healthy society where there are no hypocrisies, no malady, no double standards, no bias, totally clean minds and ethics that is 70 bleeding generations old. Creeps for its part is not a very edifying production. Hence you're offended. Creeps is not a play that aims at subtlety. Hence you're confusion. I guess that prompts me to post a comparative theatre ethos of the Continent against ours. The trouble is, we don't have a proper theatre ethos. We shun our own theatre saying Indians can't write plays, leave alone good plays, and whore after the West for scripts!

eternal flunky said...

"socially acceptable safe non risk-taking art"
totally agree... if theres anything bout five years of environmental science (in school) has taught me, its that ppl ultimately jus want to be... at the most they'l substitute their coke with diet coke, or seperate waste into biodegradable and nonbiodegradable while continuing to consume the same amount of plastic.
but thats ofcourse only unless something comes around thats different, honest, attractive, and trendy... a new wave...a new movement... hmm..i dunno never witnessed any such thing in my short life.
nice article kk, kinda hard-hitting, but as my old english teacher says, "someone's gotta play the ogre".

Krishna Kumar said...

Yes, and am prompted to answer the criticism levelled at me for being grossly punishing in what they think is a harsh way because I want to be honest and not encourage polite backslapping. So am posting part II to Quo Theate tonight or tomorrow. I shall deal with acting and theatre, in general.

vbk said...

KK, i appreciate it... The patience with which you vanquish my ignorance....

Krishna Kumar said...

Too pooped out over the weekend with too much work, not to mention travelling from one end of the city to another, doing workshops, haven't been able to post my sequel. In fact, I promised one of the evam honchos, inspite of all the rancour generated amid a lot of ppl who are evam abhimaanis and myself, that I would if free turn up for sunday evening show. Well, performances may vary from night to night, although I doubt there would have been a sea change in performance standards because fundamentally the approach was wrong. Anyway... hopefully my post won't be anachronistic when it comes. Week seems submerging enough.